A directory is like a path through a forest. A path is especially useful if your skills at navigating are not very good, or if the forest is large and dense. A directory can be reassuring; it is, after all, a path you can follow.
Directories are boring. Who wants to read lists of things, unless you are searching for something specific, and you must look at one. Looking at a directory is work: the reward must be apparent to want to go down the path. Directories are useless remnants of the past pre-digital, pre-Internet world. Google it, Bing it, but don’t waste time looking through page after page of stuff that isn’t necessary to look at.
Directories? Get a life!
Precisely. A directory of community-based services and activities is a path – however not just through any old forest, but to those people and resources that are around you, and are here for you. A forest that represents many different real-life real-world options.
A community directory of local resources is not the same path or process that one uses for a search of the lowest plane-fare or best-rated cellphone. A directory of local nonprofits is certainly not personal contact, but facilitating personal connections is one of its main purposes. It does this in two ways: it provides a path a person can follow, often to a locally based person, and it allows the viewer to see all of the resources that are available, all in one place. And this goes for nonprofit organizations as well: they all can see what is being offered by the other nonprofits – the community they are a part of. It’s a two-way street.
Using this directory listing often requires contact with a human being on a local level: you wouldn’t want it any other way. Algorithms are great tools in a volatile environment when change is the order every moment of every day, but relationships don’t change that fast, and where you live should not feel that impersonal.
Directory listings endure, Google search results evaporate. The resources local people provide don’t change as often as prices or phone features, therefore a directory can maintain its relevance over much longer stretches of time. Once established, community directories can easily be maintained using few resources.
Boring is as boring does
(Forest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.”)
But that still leaves the “boring” issue, because even though a directory listing may have relevance in this instant direct-to-me gratification results-oriented world, if the local citizens don’t find this tool interesting, and consequently not many people use it, a directory is as good as not being there.
And so you, the library administrator or concerned citizen, will work on the website in order to create an attractive-looking directory in the hope that visitors to the site will become inspired enough to browse the listings in search of personal growth, needed assistance, or perhaps a little entertainment. And so you should, but if that’s where your efforts to engage people stop, you’ve missed the main point of the directory and the real impact that it can have.
This directory has other purposes besides directing people: it’s an enabler of relationships. The idea of a community network should not end with a listing – it should begin with a listing. Interactions with a directory do have a defined purpose – to connect people to resources – but other things should happen as a result of these interactions: libraries become familiar with the local people that make up local nonprofits, nonprofits become more familiar with their library, and new insights into people’s needs and wants emerge.
Over time, interactions can result in unique collaborations that mix resources with people in new ways.
For a library, developing relationships with those who are active in the community is as important as making resources easier to access.
This is the “secret” agenda of the community network directory – interaction – and it can roll out in many ways. Here are a few examples:
- Speaking with or emailing local nonprofits informing them of the directory listing.
- Discussing plans to assist nonprofits’ needs for volunteers beyond listing in the directory (like displays in the library).
- Engaging with nonprofits to enable collaborative efforts, like shared events at the library.
Different kinds of personal interactions can lead to other even more engaging interactions between the library, organizations, and local citizens. It is these interactive relationships that may not be apparent at first, but may produce creative and beneficial results as time goes on.
To be successful, it will be important to make the function of promoting communication for all, apparent to all. There should be nothing hidden about making people feel welcome, and about promoting the value of community resources and the dedicated efforts of those who offer them.
Call it marketing, call it being informative, but the additional purpose of offering a directory is to bring people together, giving everyone an “excuse” to participate – in community, and with nonprofit functions. As the architectural metaphor states, “form follows function,” in this case, let the directory show the way to improved interaction and communication between all who use it.
It does not matter who you are – an individual concerned about community development, global issues, or a library director addressing relevancy – involvement in local community is the same social responsibility.
The collective view of a community’s resources can also add to the attractiveness of a community – how a community is perceived by outsiders. A community offering a more complete view of, and a better connection to resources, can appear more attractive to visitors and those considering moving into the community.
The Library Community Network is a win-win-win situation, benefiting the library, nonprofits, and the people who are the community.